Thursday, March 17, 2011

Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Say (Or Do)

By Brian Henry

When we lost our daughter Caroline, we gained a world of perspective we never wanted.

Most people lead a life blissfully ignorant of pregnancy loss. Many of our friends and family had no idea what it was like to suffer this type of loss, so it stood to reason that they also had no idea how to react when it entered their lives.

Forgiving the ignorance of others isn't exactly the first thing you do after a loss.

In the days following Caroline's stillbirth, we expected everyone would understand right away what we needed - gentle words, limitless understanding, the ability to listen for hours on end as we cried our way through another difficult evening - and further, that they would instantaneously and successfully deliver the support we needed.

When those expectations weren't met, we were disappointed and angry. Everyone we came in contact with was summarily labeled according to their level of support - there were the rarified few that made it into the "very helpful" category, a few more that were "somewhat helpful" and then the majority who fell into the abyss known as "wow, couldn’t have been less helpful, let's never call that person again."

Only in the years since our loss have we realized our expectations didn’t match reality. We failed to understand what is possible emotionally from people who haven’t had a loss, which made it more difficult for our recovery.

We should expect basic human reactions – "I'm sorry." "How sad." "I'm here to help." - but we found ourselves demanding even more. Only now, after suffering our own loss, meeting others who have suffered losses and educating our friends and family about pregnancy loss, do we truly understand, and forgive.

Forgiveness is a big word for us. We don't ask for it from each other very often, even though we should. And we don't give it out a lot to others, because we feel obligated to hold onto our angry feelings, take every slight, file it in our brain and recall it at a moment's notice.

We felt that if we did forgive, it would allow hurtful words or lack of support - unintentional though it may have been - to shape our view of ourselves and of our loss.

As we went along our own journey of recovery, we came to understand that forgiving people around us for not meeting our expectations (and forgiving ourselves for having those expectations in the first place), actually helped us to better appreciate what our friends and family could, and did, give to us.

It's a lesson we didn’t want to learn, but now that we have, we hope we’re better at forgiving those closest to us and helping others understand how they can better support families who have suffered such a devastating loss.

In what ways have you used forgiveness after your loss?


Melissa said...

I honestly don't think I have the strength to forgive those who said some of the stupidest things I have ever heard.

elizabeth said...

Following my 4th pregnancy loss, I was more sensitive and demanding than ever (albeit, silently)... and practically looked for ways to be offended or made to feel uncared for, and carried those hurts with me for months. The bitterness sometimes experienced in grief can be an ugly thing all around. This post has helped me realize that I need to forgive myself and others in the very ways you describe. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Melissa.

pamela said...

Unfortunately, I feel the same way Melissa does - I really don't have the strength to forgive those that were not supportive or even defined the word "friend" to us during such a tragic and devastating time. I'm not saying that I won't ever forgive, but right now, I just can't find a way.

chrystal said...

It's been 7 1/2 years since we experienced our last miscarriage. We've lost three children all together and are blessed with two beautiful girls. Grieving is hard for everyone involved. Those on the other side of it can't possibly understand those going through it. I admit I've been told some of the most ridiculous things by well-meaning people. Some of it hurts terribly, some of it is so ignorant there aren't words to use to adequatly respond to it. But forgiveness does come and you do move on. It has to be on your own time. And ultimatley it leads you to the place where you can in turn help others and know what NOT to say.

Peach said...

Forgiving someone who said something purposely hurtful is different than forgiving someone who was trying to help but said the wrong thing. The more I learned about grief the more I realized how little people know about it and how little they know about how to help those grieving. Goes back to expectations. It's a tricky balance.

Shana said...

I have found that if anything I've learned to follow the "pay it forward" rule when it comes to this. Sometimes I have to be the one to let someone know that what they've said is hurtful and hopefully they can learn a better way to be there for someone who's had a loss. I now know what NOT to say to others experiencing a loss and have tried to forgive myself for some of the stupid things I may have said to someone else before I experienced my own loss. Now that I have to see it from both perspectives I've learned that some people just don't understand the impact of their words and like a lot of us, some people just are good at putting their foot in their mouths. Hopefully at some point in the future though they are able to realize what they said may have been hurtful. I know I'm the queen of putting my foot in my mouth so I really try to not judge others for it. But I agree with some of the others that there are just some things that people have said that are really difficult to let go of.

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